Merchants and Empire

Town Life,
page 6 of 14

Their duties were slight, — a drill in the morning, no sentry work during the day, a watch over the city gates at night, and cutting wood. The military code of the day reveals a very lax condition of discipline; it wasn’t really much of an army in Dutch days. And as for the Fort and the Battery in the town of New Amsterdam, read Mr. Janvier’s papers thereon to learn fully their innocuous pretence of warlikeness.

There was very irregular foreign and inland mail service. It is with a retrospectively pitying shiver that we read a notice, as late as 1730, that “whoever inclines to perform the foot-post to Albany this winter may make application to the Post-Master.” Later we find the postmaster leisurely collecting the mail during several weeks for “the first post to Albany this winter.” Of course this foot-post was only made when the river was frozen over; swift sloops carried the summer mail up the river in two or three weeks, —sometimes in only ten days from New York to Albany. I can fancy the lonesome post journeying alone up the solemn river, under the awe-full shadow of old Cro’nest, sometimes climbing the icy Indian paths with ys-sporen, oftener, I hope, skating swiftly along, as a good son of a Hollander should, and longing every inch of the way for spring and the “breaking-up” of the river.

In 1672, “Indian posts” carried the Albany winter mail; trustworthy redmen, whose endurance and honesty were at the service of their white friends.

The first regular mail started by mounted post from New York for Boston on January 1, 1673. His “portmantles” were crammed with letters and “small portable goods” and “divers bags.” He was “active, stout, indefatigable, and honest.” He could not change horses till he reached Hartford. He was ordered to keep an eye out for the best ways through forests, and accommodations at fords, ferries, etc., and to watch for all fugitive soldiers and servants, and to be kind to all persons journeying in his company. While he was gone eastward a locked box stood in the office of the Colonial Secretary at New York to collect the month’s mail. The mail the post brought in return, being prepaid, was carried to the “coffeehouse,” put on a table, well thumbed over by all who cared to examine it, and gradually distributed, two or three weeks’delay not making much difference any way.


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